Barbara Rice Thompson, a 56-year-old North Wantagh resident, was the editor of Penthouse magazine for more than 25 years before she was laid off in January. But months earlier, she had spoken with the Rev. Christopher Hofer, the rector of the Church of St. Jude, about how she wanted to “give back on a more real level — other than providing porn,” she said with a laugh.
When she learned that her church was working on opening a mission center at St. Michael and All Angels in Seaford, Rice Thompson said that she felt as if her prayers had been answered. One program — the Mother and Child Ministry — touched her, she said.
“My father was an aerospace engineer at the Grumman factory, and when I was about 10, he lost his job,” she recalled. “He was delivering newspapers on Sunday mornings and pumping gas on Saturday afternoons because he had five kids, and that’s what he had to do ... we were the family in church who was getting the Christmas basket.”
Rice Thompson said that she was looking forward to helping families in need at the new Mother and Child Ministry food pantry. Hofer said that Rice Thompson and 200 more volunteers had devoted hundreds of hours to establishing the center, which opened on March 2.
Wantagh and Seaford residents, community group leaders, locally elected officials and Bishop Lawrence Provenzano, of the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island, celebrated the grand opening and ribbon cutting for the center on Feb. 26. Days later, pantry volunteers opened the doors of St. Michael’s basement — now complete with shelves stacked with diapers, baby formula and food, bottles, shampoo, clothing and toys — to local mothers trying to provide for their youngsters while living in expensive southeastern Nassau County, Hofer said.
Hofer, who has been at St. Jude since 2004, is also the vicar of St. Michael’s and the executive director of the mission center. He said that while he has wanted to establish a local outreach program since 2006, St. Jude — nestled in a residential area nearly two miles from the Wantagh Long Island Rail Road station — was not accessible to local folks in need without cars.
Steps away from Merrick Road and less than one mile from the Seaford LIRR stop, Hofer said that St. Michael’s, at 2197 Jackson Ave., seemed like an excellent home for the Mother and Child Ministry. The program was designed to provide child care essentials and hygiene products to parents in need, allowing them to spend more money on their own health, medical care for their families, tuition and/or job-related expenses.
Hofer said that the mission center is supporting the first pantry geared specifically towards small children and their parents on Long Island. He noted that members of the advisory team, which began preparing to launch the Mother and Child Ministry in June, were called to help this marginalized group.
Although outsiders may perceive Wantagh and Seaford as affluent communities, Hofer said, apartments are often rented to single mothers and struggling couples with small children who want their children to attend local schools. “But when your rent is $2,000 a month and you can’t afford to get to work or put food on the table, you really have to make choices,” he added. “These are our neighbors — they live on our streets — and no one wants to talk about it.”
The Mother and Child Food Pantry is just one of the mission center programs. The church also organized the PB&J Brigade — a group of teens and adults who make sandwiches that are distributed to local women’s shelters. In the future, Hofer said, they will make food for residents in need at community meals held at St. Michael’s every Wednesday.
The Episcopal Ministries of Long Island awarded the church a $15,000 grant to establish the center. Executive Director Mary Beth Walsh spoke at the grand opening, thanking local religious leaders and congregants for not only embracing this community service, but also for involving organizations such as Kiwanis groups and high school clubs.
Provenzano said that it’s clear that parishioners of St. Jude’s and St. Michael’s pay attention to their communities’ needs. Too often, he said, folks keep the lessons that they learn in church to themselves.
“The call has gone in out in our diocese that Sunday morning is the time when our people are fed by word and sacrament in order to do the work that God has placed before us in the communities that we serve,” Provenzano said. “It is easy to preach the gospel — we use a lot of words. It is a whole different thing for us to live that gospel message.”
Residents may drop off donations at St. Michael’s on Wednesdays between 4 and 8 p.m. Parents in needs are welcome to stop by the pantry for goods and services on Thursdays from 4 to 7 p.m.